Footie fashion kicks off as Euro 2004 draws near

European Championship football madness has kicked off as retailers exploited last week's launch of the latest official England away strip.

Competition among store groups is likely to mirror the action on the field, as fans approach fever pitch before the tournament kicks-off on June 12.

JJB Sports expects a boost from sales of the official Umbro kit and other football products. JJB associate director of replica kit Colin Russell said: 'We are expecting to sell an awful lot of replica kit. It is the biggest kit launch that we will do all year.'

Sainsbury's is also selling a range of football merchandise, as well as the official Umbro shirts, in 300 shops.

George at Asda has unveiled a retro sportswear range designed by Admiral that will go into stores on May 17.

Admiral has been resurrected in collaboration with George, and was the official kit supplier to the England team during the 1970s and 1980s.

The range includes retro football tops inspired by England's 1982 official World Cup shirt.

However, it remains to be seen how much retailers will gain from the tournament. In July 2002, JJB blamed a poorer than expected performance on the impact of the World Cup. The retailer said fans had avoided higher-margin products in favour of lower-margin replica gear. Russell said JJB had learnt from that experience and adjusted expectations for Euro 2004.

RW Baird analyst Paul Smiddy agreed. He said JJB's development of own-brand should insulate it from risk.

He said: 'They are probably a bit more diversified now.'